If you’ve ever sat on a therapist’s couch and thought to yourself, easy for you to say, you should read Lori Gottlieb’s MAYBE YOU SHOULD TALK TO SOMEONE. Gottlieb’s mash up memoir/self help book is an intimate look at – as the subtitle states – A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed – in it, Lori Gottlieb is not only a therapist, she is also a patient.
Gottlieb had several careers before she went back to school to become a psychotherapist – she was a television writer, a freelance journalist, and she also did as a brief stint as a medical student before switching gears to psychotherapy. She is a practicing therapist and writes the weekly Dear Therapist column for the Atlantic. Her first book, Marry Him, examined how we choose our partners. In this book, Gottlieb finds herself in crisis – her boyfriend, the man that she thought she would marry, breaks up with her. This, she says, is the presenting problem – but as she acknowledges, there is usually a deeper issue that needs to be addressed. In other words, the presenting problem gets you onto the porch, therapy gets you in the house and may even help you with the remodeling.
Where does a therapist find a therapist? She solicits referrals from colleagues – for a “friend”, and begins therapy with balding, cardigan and khaki-clad Wendell. Gottlieb initially tells Wendell that she will just need a couple of sessions to get back on track – a tune-up of sorts – but the reality is that Gottlieb needs to go a little deeper and that will take more time.
To avoid too much navel-gazing, Gottlieb intersperses her own therapy with the stories of several of her patients: John, a self-absorbed Emmy award-winning television producer, Julie, a newlywed with a devastating cancer diagnosis, and Rita, a seventy-year-old domestic abuse survivor who has given herself a happiness deadline. Each of these stories is alternatingly touching and frustrating – like every good reader, you think you know the answer to their problems before the denouement. As Gottlieb google-stalks her ex-boyfriend and Wendell, you may find yourself yelling “Stop! This will not end well!” Easy for you to say. For each of them – Lori, John, Julie, and Rita – there is hard work to be done.
At one point, when Lori is obsessing about “boyfriend” Wendell stops her.
“I’m reminded, he begins, of a famous cartoon. It’s of a prisoner, shaking the bars, desperately trying to get out – but to his right and left, it’s open, no bars.”
He pauses, allowing the image to sink in.
“All the prisoner has to do is walk around. But still, he frantically shakes the bars. That’s most of us. We feel completely stuck, trapped in our emotional cells, but there’s a way out – as long as we’re willing to see it.”
Wendell’s cartoon image reminds me of a mime, pressing his hands against an invisible wall – only to cut a doorway and open it, walking onto the other side.
Gottlieb has a revelation, but it’s only the beginning. “Insight is the booby prize of therapy,” she writes. You may have a revelation in therapy but if you don’t make changes out in your world, it’s meaningless.
As a therapist, Gottlieb helps her patients navigate that space. After a revelatory moment in therapy, she helps her patients envision putting change into practice. She listens. She supports. She empathizes as one who has laid on the couch. The strangest thing about therapy, she writes, is that it’s structured around an ending. The successful outcome of therapy is that the patient will reach their goal and leave. But the reality is that in order to reach that goal, patients and therapists have formed deep attachments – a necessary part of the work.
“We grow in connection with others. Everyone needs to hear that other person’s voice saying, I believe in you. I can see possibilities that you might not see quite yet. I imagine that something different can happen, in some form or another. In therapy we say, Let’s edit your story.”
MAYBE YOU SHOULD TALK TO SOMEONE is a transparent, authentic, and even funny look at therapy and the human capacity for change. It’s ultimately uplifting and inspiring and helps to destigmatize therapy. The book leaves no doubt about the value of therapy; the challenge is to make it accessible to everyone.
If you are struggling, or know someone who is – there is help available. Call your local clinic, or go onto the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) website and click on “Find Support”, there is also a national suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-8255. I’ll leave you with this quote from Victor Hugo, which opens part three of the book: What makes night within us may leave stars. Shine on.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews.